In Haiti, No Specific Group Caused Cholera Outbreak

A United Nations document on the cholera outbreak in Haiti has finally been released; several articles on the results of recent studies undertaken by the independent panel set up by the UN to investigate the source of the epidemic have reported on the “confluence of circumstances,” and not the fault of any group or individual, was responsible for the fast-moving outbreak. Here are excerpts:

The report of the four-member panel of experts, released yesterday, includes a series of recommendations for the UN and the Haitian Government so they can help prevent the future introduction and spread of cholera within the impoverished Caribbean country.

[. . .] The experts’ report states that the evidence “overwhelmingly supports” the conclusion that the source was human activity contaminating a tributary of the Artibonite River with a pathogenic strain of cholera. Scientific analysis indicate that the bacteria did not originate from the native environment of Haiti, but from a strain “very similar but not identical” to South Asian strains currently circulating within Asia.

The outbreak was able to spread so quickly and widely through the Artibonite River delta and eventually all of Haiti because of a series of factors, including: tens of thousands of Haitians using the river system for washing, bathing, drinking and recreation; thousands of agriculture workers being regularly exposed to the river waters, especially those working in rice paddy fields; the local population lacking immunity to cholera; the country suffering from poor water and sanitation conditions; and infected individuals fleeing to their home communities after the initial outbreak, thus dispersing the outbreak.

“The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with faeces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health-care system deficiencies,” the report concludes. “These deficiencies, coupled with conducive environmental and epidemiological conditions, allowed the spread of the Vibrio cholerae organism in the environment, from which a large number of people became infected. The Independent Panel concludes that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described above, and was not the fault or, or deliberate action of, a group or individual.”

[. . .] In addition, the report recommends that the Haitian Government and the UN prioritize investing in piped, treated drinking water supplies and better sanitation throughout the country.

[Many thanks to Nadève Ménard for bringing this item to our attention.]

For the UN report, see or

For full article, see

2 thoughts on “In Haiti, No Specific Group Caused Cholera Outbreak

  1. The UN is indeed stating that no specific group caused the cholera outbreak. But paragraphs such as this one from page 23 of the report show that they know otherwise:

    The sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp were not sufficient to prevent contamination of the Meye Tributary System with human fecal waste. It is clear that: 1) there was potential for feces to enter into and flow from the drainage canal running through the camp directly into the southwestern branch of the Meye Tributary System; and, 2) there was potential for waste from the open septic disposal pit to contaminate the southeastern branch of the Meye Tributary System either by overflow during rainfall or contamination via animal transport. MINUSTAH contracts with an outside contractor to handle human fecal waste. Additionally, although residents report contractor trucks dumping feces into the septic pit, it has been suggested there might have been an unauthorized feces dumping directly into the Meye Tributary System (Piarroux, 2010). This proposition could not be independently confirmed. Although, at the time of the Independent Panel’s visit, the battalion stationed at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH facility had made substantial improvements in the sanitary conditions compared with those commented upon during personal interviews and discussions in previous reports, conditions were not optimal and additional work was needed to ensure prevention of environmental contamination.

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